55 min
July 8, 2024

Building Influence on Social Media as a Therapist with Jeff Guenther

With the rise of social media, many therapists are elevating their online presence.

This is undoubtedly true for Jeff Guenther, better known as @TherapyJeff on TikTok and Instagram where he’s built an audience of more than 4 million followers.

Jeff, a licensed therapist, author, podcast host, and private practice owner based in Portland, OR, has founded multiple companies, including TherapyDen, a popular therapist directory.

In his conversation with host Michael Fulwiler, Jeff explores the complexities of balancing an online persona with maintaining a private practice. 

He discusses how this dual role can blur professional boundaries and lead to unexpected client interactions. Jeff advises new therapists to be mindful of the emotional impact of their online influence and to respect boundaries with their clients.

The discussion also delves into Jeff’s journey to becoming a therapist, highlighting his relationship with his mother and his struggles with anxiety as a new therapist. He shares how he overcame feelings of worthlessness, built his client base from scratch, and balanced his professional and personal life. 

Jeff also touches on the often unspoken truth about therapists working through their own issues and what it means for their professional journey.

As a heads-up, this episode contains some strong language.

In the conversation, they discuss:

  • Personal struggles and the quest for understanding often lead us to the most fulfilling careers. 
  • By recognizing your worth and gradually adjusting your rates, you will find a balance between financial stability and authentic practice. 
  • While social media has advantages, it can blur professional boundaries and lead to unexpected client interactions. Stay grounded and true to your therapeutic roots while exploring new avenues for growth.

Connect with the guest:

Connect with Michael and Heard:

Jump into the conversation:

00:00 Introduction to Heard Business School with host Michael Fulwiler and special guest Jeff Guenther

03:16 Decision to enter therapy as influenced by his mother

07:51 On true therapist cliches

10:12 Anxieties in starting a private practice at 24 years old

24:16 Misconceptions on private practice

27:34 Reflecting on the importance of variety in work

31:52 On building a social media persona and creating content

37:55 Decision not to accept new clients due to social media influence

40:56 Insight into Jeff’s book, Big Dating Energy

47:09 Reflecting on the challenges experienced during practice

51:49 Advice on becoming an online therapist/content creator 

This episode is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this episode.

Guest Bio

Jeff Guenther is a licensed professional therapist with over 20 years of experience in private practice. He has helped thousands of couples and individuals overcome romantic obstacles and thrive in their relationships. Jeff is the creator of the TherapyJeff accounts on TikTok and Instagram, boasting a combined following of 4 million. He hosts the 'Big Dating Energy' podcast and 'Problem Solved.' His expertise has been featured on 'The Talk' on CBS, and he has been interviewed by NPR, Time, CNN, Rolling Stone, Business Insider, Morning Brew, and Slate, among others. His new book, Big Dating Energy, comes out tomorrow!

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Episode Transcript

Jeff Guenther [00:00:00]:

Becoming a therapist was to become more connected with my mother. What happened was I became more emotionally intelligent, and it created even more disconnection with my mom.

Michael Fulwiler [00:00:14]:

This is heard business school, where we sit down with private practice owners and industry experts to learn about the business of therapy together. I'm your host, Michael Fulwiler. What would having 4 million followers across TikTok and Instagram do for your therapy practice? I sat down with Jeff Guenther, also known as therapy Jeff, to find out. In addition to being a viral sensation on social media, Jeff is a licensed professional counselor and private practice owner based in Portland, Oregon, who has started multiple companies, including Therapy Den, a popular therapist directory. In our conversation, Jeff shares his journey to becoming a licensed therapist and explains how his social media following has transformed his business. He also shares his approach to creating content that resonates, maintaining confidentiality, and engaging with a vast audience online. Plus, he gives us a sneak peek into his new book, big dating energy, and how he manages to keep everything balanced. As a heads up, this episode does contain some strong language, so if that's not your thing, then I recommend stopping now.

Michael Fulwiler [00:01:22]:

Here's my conversation with Jeff Guenther. Enjoy. Jeff Guenther, welcome to the show.

Jeff Guenther [00:01:30]:

Thanks for having me.

Michael Fulwiler [00:01:32]:

How does it feel to be the most handsome therapist on TikTok?

Jeff Guenther [00:01:36]:

I'm fucking used to it. My guy.

Michael Fulwiler [00:01:39]:

Is that a self appointed title, or is there, like, a governing body that.

Jeff Guenther [00:01:44]:

I mean, it wasn't a surprise when I got awarded that. I'm not only the most handsome therapist on TikTok, but, like, maybe the most handsome therapist in the world. People say, like, I don't say that. I don't say that, but I've seen other people say that. I've heard that people are saying that. And also that, like, I may be, like, of 2024, I might be, like, the most handsome author in the world. So does it, like, inflate my ego a little bit? I don't think my ego could get any bigger, honestly.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:18]:

So do you feel objectified for your looks instead of your mental health knowledge?

Jeff Guenther [00:02:24]:

I'm fine with that. Yeah, whatever pays the bills, right? Yeah. I'll take whatever validation I can get in any possible form. I'm fine with that.

Michael Fulwiler [00:02:35]:

Before you were therapy Jeff, that everyone knows and loves, you were just Jeff, a therapist. Can you talk about why you became a therapist and give us the real reason, not the canned version?

Jeff Guenther [00:02:51]:

Sure. I mean, I think I tried to fight being a therapist for a while. I originally planned on being the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs. I'm like, a big baseball guy. And I played growing up, and I loved it, and I was really good. Also, weirdly, the most handsome baseball player in southern California. So this thing is kind of, like, followed me.

Michael Fulwiler [00:03:17]:

It's funny how that's carried with you.

Jeff Guenther [00:03:20]:

Yeah, right? Yeah. And then when I went to college, I dabbled in, like, you know, some techy stuff and animation, and I thought I was going to be a preschool teacher for a little bit there. But part of the reason I decided to, like, finally give in and do go into, like, therapy was because my mom is a therapist. And so growing up, I got to learn about what she did and what her profession was. And she sort of described it to me when I was younger as, like, I'm somebody that helps solve problems, which was probably, like, the best way to describe it to someone in, you know, elementary school or something. And I was like, that's great, mom. And I started, like, scheduling sessions with her when I was a little kid to be like, I have some problems. Can you help me? And it was usually like, my sister is the worst.

Jeff Guenther [00:04:09]:

How do I deal with her? Can we get her out of this fucking house? Like, she's horrible. So the, like, the special times, like, the connecting times that I had with my mom was when we were, like, playing therapy when I was really little. And then as I grew up and became a teenager, things just sort of, like, we became, like, a lot more disconnected. There was a lot of, when I was in high school, there was on her. Like, she and my stepdad started to abuse drugs pretty heavily. And there was, like, a real. I became, like, very angry as a teenager. As a teenager would.

Jeff Guenther [00:04:45]:

I was really wanting to connect with my mom when I was in high school because that's when. When I entered high school, my sister entered college, which meant that my sister moved out of the house. So, like, finally with my sister gone, I'm like, all right, now I'm gonna get some, like, mom one on one time. And it just didn't turn out that way because that's right when my mom got addicted to drugs, and she was, like, heavily addicted for my whole high school time. So there was this yearning to connect with my mom that I never really. That I carried into college. And then once I started to think about grad school, I was like, if I become a therapist, that's how I'll sort of be able to connect with my mother. Just like I was able to connect with her when I was a little kid.

Jeff Guenther [00:05:34]:

And we were, like, playing therapy client together, unfortunately, which I think, like a lot of your listeners and other therapists might experience when you go to therapy school, a lot of times you start to become a lot more emotionally intelligent and understanding. You analyze yourself and your friends and your family and everyone around you. And I started to get, like, a lot more clear about, like, why I was angry, why I was hurt. And I started to express that to my mom, and she wasn't able to hear it. I think that, like, the main reason she couldn't hear it is because she had just, like, a ton of shame around the time when she did drugs, just around our relationship in general, not feeling like she could connect with me. So when I was just like, ah, I'm upset, I'm angry, I'm frustrated. Here's all of my emotions. She would just, like, get hijacked by shame, and that was that.

Jeff Guenther [00:06:27]:

So, like, becoming a therapist was to become more connected with my mother. What happened was I became more emotionally intelligent, and it created even more disconnection with my mom. So kind of a bummer. But I did really enjoy being a therapist, like, learning about therapy, so that was a bonus. Yeah, that's why I got into it.

Michael Fulwiler [00:06:49]:

Well, we're glad that you did become a therapist. Do you think that that's pretty common? A lot of therapists get into the field to work on their own stuff, whether they realize it or not.

Jeff Guenther [00:07:00]:

Oh, God. Yeah, I think. I mean, that's a cliche, and I think that cliche is true. A lot of people start going to, like, grad school because they want to learn more about themselves and they're feeling overwhelmed or confused or. I think there's also kind of, like, for me, at least, I wasn't feeling seen or understood or valued by my family. And when you go to grad school and you go to therapy school, there's like this. You feel so incredibly connected with your cohort, and you feel so connected with the professors that are teaching you because there's just, like, you're being vulnerable. You're, like, doing practice sessions with each other.

Jeff Guenther [00:07:40]:

There's like this, like, you feel like a family. You feel like you're going through something really important. So there's also that just, like, a ton of connection that you get, but, yeah, lots of mommy and daddy issues, I think.

Michael Fulwiler [00:07:51]:

Are there other cliches about therapists that are true?

Jeff Guenther [00:07:55]:

Therapists are fucking crazy. I think that. I mean, I'm joking. We shouldn't use the word crazy like that. Right, right. But I think that, like, I don't think that's true. 100% of the time. But there is something about being the therapist and sitting in the therapist's chair and not being, like, the client on the couch and feeling like you have power and control, not like you're using it in some manipulative way, but there's, like, a lot of, like, protection sitting in that therapist's chair and analyzing somebody else and not having to kind of, like, analyze yourself, you know? That being said, most therapists, almost all therapists go to therapy themselves.

Jeff Guenther [00:08:35]:

I think that, like, also, like, people that go through trauma or hard times might be attracted to becoming a therapist because there's, like, I wish somebody would have helped me, so I'm going to help others, or I feel like I've grown a lot because of the trauma or the emotional shit that I've gone through. And so because of that, I feel like I can step into this role. So there's usually a lot of, you know, some sort of baggage or issues that therapists are struggling with, which is great. It makes them so they can empathize better, right.

Michael Fulwiler [00:09:07]:

Then they go to graduate school to become a therapist, and they get zero business training. Right. They don't take a business class, and then they want to go into private practice, and they have, like, no context. So you've been practicing therapy since 2005, I believe, which is almost 20 years. At what point did you go into private practice, and what do you remember about that experience being?

Jeff Guenther [00:09:33]:

Yeah, so I went. I graduated with my master's degree in marriage and family therapy from USC. Go Trojans. And then two weeks later, I moved up to Portland, Oregon. And one of the reasons I moved up to Portland was because it was easier to start your private practice in Portland than California. You just go to Oregon and, like, hang a shingle and be like, I'm a therapist now. As long as you like. As long as you find a supervisor.

Michael Fulwiler [00:10:03]:

Right.

Jeff Guenther [00:10:04]:

Then you can just, like, start your private practice. It's like a round trail kind of, right, exactly.

Michael Fulwiler [00:10:10]:

Claim a piece of land.

Jeff Guenther [00:10:12]:

Yep. So I got to Portland, and then maybe a week later, I found a little office space to share, and I started, I put up ads on Craigslist. Anyone that was looking for a therapist, I charged $25 an hour. And I was like, let's fucking go for it. And I found out really quickly that I was not ready to be in private practice. And that's because I was starting to get anxiety attacks while I was in session with my clients. And struggling with anxiety is not something that's new for me at that point, especially, there was I felt anxious all the time, and I understood how it manifested, and I had different ways of coping with it, but the way my anxiety manifested. And when I first started, my prayer practice was jarring, and I wasn't ready for it.

Jeff Guenther [00:11:13]:

And I haven't heard many other people talk about it, but. So I would, like, do sessions start? I was a therapist, and I'd be, like, sitting there being a therapist, whatever. And then I would have just sort of, like, I start to feel a little nervous, and then I had all of a sudden feel like I need to pee. And then I was like, well, that's okay. People need to pee. I'll pee after the session. But then the feeling of needing to pee really started to ramp up. I was just like, I feel like I need to stop this session so I can go excuse myself, but I was like, a competent therapist would never pee in the middle of a session, so there's absolutely no way I'm going to do that.

Jeff Guenther [00:11:52]:

And then since I wasn't, like, excusing myself to go pee, I would, like, literally, I was like, I think I'm going to pee my pants. I think all of a sudden I'm losing control of my bladder. And it felt like there was pee coming out. And I was like, this couldn't possibly be pee. So I'd have to, like, sneak a look down at my pants to be like, do I have pee pants? Is that what's going on here? But I wouldn't pee. There was no pee coming out. And then the session would end, and I would go to the bathroom, and I wasn't like, I really needed to pee all that bad. All of a sudden, the pee urge would just go away.

Jeff Guenther [00:12:26]:

So it's like, oh, this is really fucking annoying. And then it just got worse and worse. Every session where it felt like there was pee coming out, and I couldn't concentrate on the session. I couldn't be a good therapist. I literally thought I was peeing my pants every time I had a supervisor, but I was way too embarrassed to tell my supervisor that I think I'm pissing my pants, but it's like a phantom attack. It's not, really. So then, like, I was like, okay, if I'm going to continue being a therapist and I feel like I'm pissing myself the whole time, I have two options. I can either wear a diaper.

Jeff Guenther [00:13:06]:

Cause I was like, at least if I did pee, like, who cares? Pee it up, big guy. You got something, you know? And then. Or. But I was like, but that will crinkle like, somebody. I don't. I'm like a 24 year old therapist wearing a diaper. Like, there's like. Or I could somehow put a condom on, like, just sort of like a loose.

Jeff Guenther [00:13:30]:

So that if I just, like, peed, I peed into the condom. And those were my two options, and I decided to stop being a therapist. I was like, I'm not gonna. I can't. I can't decide between those two. I clearly need to stop what I'm doing.

Michael Fulwiler [00:13:47]:

Yeah. Wow. That's a very specific thing that I've never heard before. I wonder if listeners have had that experience. Would love to look it up.

Jeff Guenther [00:13:57]:

Phantom pee attack.

Michael Fulwiler [00:13:59]:

Is it a thing?

Jeff Guenther [00:14:01]:

It's a thing. It's a thing that, like, when you feel anxious, sometimes it feels like you're gonna pee your pants or that you are peeing your pants. Some people also feel like they're pooping themselves when there's no pee or poops coming out. It's just like, anxiety is making your body. So I stopped. I stopped and doing a private practice and instead try to, like, look for a job, like, in, like, a counseling center or something. Oh, wow.

Michael Fulwiler [00:14:22]:

So it was that bad?

Jeff Guenther [00:14:24]:

It was that bad.

Michael Fulwiler [00:14:25]:

Wow.

Jeff Guenther [00:14:25]:

And it was very embarrassing, and I didn't tell anybody about it for many, many, many years. I eventually then got a job at a crisis line for a year where I just, like, answered calls. People that are, you know, in crisis anywhere from, like, I'm having an anxiety attack or I can't find the remote or I can't go to sleep or I'm going to harm myself. Thats an incredibly stressful job. I did that for a year, and then I eventually worked at a nonprofit where I was basically like a middle school counselor for the really bad kids, which I loved working with kids. Theyre great. Their parents were fucking turds. And I was having a lot of counter transference towards the parents, which was really unfortunate because I wanted to focus on middle schoolers and do family therapy and teach parenting classes, but I was so upset with the parents for not being good parents.

Jeff Guenther [00:15:18]:

When I eventually started my private practice, after being at that job for a year or so, I couldnt work with families or kids anymore because I couldnt see those parents. I was too upset with all of them. So I only saw individuals that were adults and couples.

Michael Fulwiler [00:15:35]:

When you went back into private practice, did the anxiety go away? Was it just something that you got more comfortable?

Jeff Guenther [00:15:43]:

Ive never had that kind of anxiety ever again. It was only during that very brief few weeks window when I first started, when I was a little baby therapist at 24 years old, ive had anxiety being a therapist when I started up again, but it was incredibly manageable and felt very normal.

Michael Fulwiler [00:16:02]:

Besides having to pee, were there. There are other challenges being a business owner, especially in the beginning that you had to deal with.

Jeff Guenther [00:16:13]:

Yeah, I mean, so this is back. You know, I started my private practice again back in 2007, and I'm in Portland, Oregon, and I'm also not licensed yet. I'm still working on my licensure, so I had to figure out how much money I was going to charge. I charged way too little when I was charging $25 an hour, even for 2005. That is ridiculous. But then when I started up again in 2007, I charged 40. So there was, like, this kind of classic problem that I think a lot of therapists deal with, especially at the beginning, which is like, I don't know my worth. In fact, I think I'm somewhat worthless.

Jeff Guenther [00:16:50]:

And if I charge the least amount of money possible, then I don't have to be that good of a therapist if I do bad therapy sessions, like, hey, babe, you're paying dollar 40. What the fuck ever? Like, I'm doing the best I can here. So I actually. I think I was, like, a pretty good therapist, though, that was charging, like, way too little. But there was, like, it allowed me to feel sort of safe. It also allowed me to kind of, like, be myself a little bit more. I felt like if I was charging $100 an hour, then I'd have to, like, really dress the part and be very skilled at all the interventions that I'm doing. But at dollar 40 an hour, I was just like, let's have a good time, guys.

Jeff Guenther [00:17:32]:

Like, so I was, like, able to. Able to, like, be a little more jokey, have some laughs, do, like, a little more self disclosure than maybe I would have done clinically appropriate self disclosure, but self disclosure nonetheless. Where I was taught going to grad school at USC, like, never do any self disclosure no matter what. So it allowed me to be, like, more authentically me, but I wasn't making enough money, which was a problem. And I was in supervision and group supervision, and they were just like, buddy, you gotta fucking charge at least $80 an hour. This is crazy. It took me a long time to get to $80 an hour. I still don't charge as much as I should, probably, but that's just who I am.

Michael Fulwiler [00:18:19]:

That's so interesting. I never heard it explained that way, that therapists charge lower rates because there's more pressure. With charging premium rates, people expect a really good therapist if they're paying dollar 200 an hour. Where do you think that comes from? Like, where is that feeling of worthlessness coming from?

Jeff Guenther [00:18:38]:

Or self doubt for me personally, like, you know, like I said, one of the main reasons I got into therapy was like, ah, mom, love me. So it wasn't coming from a place of, like, genuine interest, of, like, I think I'm really good at this. Like, I was good at baseball. I was good at, like, I was a good little animator. I was a good, like, storyteller, but I wasn't, like, a really good therapist. So I always felt like I wasn't good enough when it came to being a professional therapist. Like, I failed out of high school, so I. A lot because of, like, the drug use and the chaotic environment that I grew up in, I was like, fuck school.

Jeff Guenther [00:19:20]:

I hate everybody. But because of that, I never, like, learned how to study. I had incredibly poor reading comprehension skills. I got bad grades all the time, so I really had to try hard in school if I was gonna, like, at least pass the class. So when I got out of grad school, I was like, I did well. I did fine. Like, I didn't, like, scrape by or anything, but I was just like, I don't think I'm that great. I don't think I'm, like, I don't think I'm, like, super skilled at all the interventions.

Jeff Guenther [00:19:48]:

What I think I'm good at is, like, connecting with people and being in relationship with people. It turned out, like, that's actually, like, the thing that we need. That's, like, the most important thing, right? Yeah, it's the most important thing, but I didn't know that, and I did not believe that either. And even in my, like, consultation groups and group supervisions, like, my supervisor and all of my colleagues that were in there were running fucking circles around me when it came to all the really complicated, amazing interventions and theories that they knew about. So I was always overwhelmed, so I had to kind of, like, default onto, like, I'm just gonna have a good relationship. Like, a loving, positive regard for my clients that works. Like, that's great. But I didn't believe that that was, like, the most healing part at the beginning.

Jeff Guenther [00:20:33]:

You know what I mean?

Michael Fulwiler [00:20:34]:

Definitely. How did you think about building your practice? Did you have a loose business plan? Were you wanting to get to 20 or 25 clients? How did you think about it in the beginning? Or were you just trying to get clients.

Jeff Guenther [00:20:54]:

At the very, very beginning? I started to advertise on Craigslist. Do not recommend that anymore. But, I mean, you do. You, babe, whatever. I don't know, maybe that still happens. But when I, like, restarted my therapy practice again, I also advertised on Craigslist, and I also had, like, because it was free. And I also, like, made flyers and hung them up, like, on the, you know, trees or, you know, the poles or whatever around.

Michael Fulwiler [00:21:22]:

So you littered.

Jeff Guenther [00:21:24]:

I literally did lots of litters. Yeah, yeah. And it was. It was like, the flyers were like, do you fucking hate your boyfriend? Let's talk about it. Or some, like, some, like, cheeky, whatever. Lots of drunk people ended up calling me nice because they hung them around town. Yeah, yeah. So I was just.

Jeff Guenther [00:21:44]:

At that point, I was just like, I want to fill my caseload. I want to have as many clients as I possibly can. I didn't, I wasn't, like, dating anybody at the time. I had, like, a couple friends, so I only. I had a lot of free time, and I wanted to have 30 clients in a week. That felt like a lot of clients, which it is. And if I'm only charging $40, then I kind of need to have that many clients. It turned out that I got the most referrals from word of mouth.

Jeff Guenther [00:22:19]:

So my clients would tell their friends who tell their friends. I also had clients at very hip places in Portland, at a very cool used bookstore, at our very hip organic market, or at one of a very fancy creative agency. And they would all tell their people at work that they're seeing this therapist probably for dirt cheap, and he's pretty good. That's. I just wanted to fill my client load. That happened really quickly. I stopped advertising on Craigslist and through flyers just because of word of mouth. And I also, like, you know, had these small income goals.

Jeff Guenther [00:23:01]:

But this is Portland back in the mid two thousands, where my rent was $400 a month in, like, a really cool part of town, so I didn't have to make too much money, which I was fine with.

Michael Fulwiler [00:23:14]:

And at this point, are you thinking about eventually expanding into a group practice, or do you just want to do your own thing and run your private practice?

Jeff Guenther [00:23:25]:

I did not want to start a group practice because that seemed way too complicated and I didn't understand. I was like, ugh, insurance or billing, having employees, that sounds horrible. For a brief moment, I thought, like, maybe I'll be a supervisor, or maybe I'll be. I'll teach at community college or something. Those feel like fun. Like, you know, if I, like, teach at a community college, I can be I can still be kind of like an alternative therapist. I don't know. There's something, like, low stakes about it that I was telling myself, or I can just be myself and have fun.

Jeff Guenther [00:24:01]:

It turns out that I didn't do either of those. My supervisor and other, like, professors I talked to, they were just like, yeah, this pays even worse than therapy. Like, and you're going to be spending so much more hours, so don't fucking do it. So it's like, okay, cool, then I'm not going to do it.

Michael Fulwiler [00:24:16]:

Are there misconceptions that therapists have about private practice that you've heard, like, over the years?

Jeff Guenther [00:24:23]:

Oh, God. I feel it's funny. I used to be very involved in the new therapists in Portland and all the grad schools. There's a handful of great grad schools in Portland here to become a therapist, where there was, like, this feeling of, like, once you leave grad school, it's important that you, like, work at a community mental health center or at a group practice. There's, like, it's important that you go ahead and, like, work at a nonprofit because that's how you, like. That's where you get your hours and you got to pay your dues. And it's hard, grueling work. And I worked in a nonprofit.

Jeff Guenther [00:25:01]:

It was really hard and difficult, and the paperwork was ridiculous. Gotta. Got it. But there's. So I would, like, kind of, like, try to intercept that thinking and be like. Or you can just start your fucking private practice. Like, worst case scenario, you want to pee your pants, right? Yeah, I did that. But, like, no pee comes out, guys.

Jeff Guenther [00:25:21]:

Yeah, so. So I think there was, like, back in two thousands, early 2010s, maybe it was like, you better pay your dues, sort of thing. I think now there's a lot of therapists that are more okay with getting out of grad school and starting their private practice. There is all, like, a very new, slightly alarming trend in 2024 where some kids are getting out of grad school and just going right into. I'm going to be a therapist influencer. That's a whole thing. But I don't know if you want to talk about that. So, like, the.

Jeff Guenther [00:26:00]:

You know, I will say, don't do that. Like, there's just. Don't. You're going to make mistakes as a baby therapist online, as a therapist content creator, and you're going to make those mistakes very publicly. It's better to make therapy mistakes as a therapist privately within your supervision group and within a consultation group with people that love you and not in front of the world with trolls that are going to drag you. So that's just sort of like, I'm going to put that out there for people to think about that. And there's also, like, I think that people are more open to, you know, charging what they're worth, which is good to see. I think maybe like, the new thing that's replaced nonprofits or community mental health out of grad schools.

Jeff Guenther [00:26:49]:

Like, people are working for, like, big therapy apps like talkspace or something, which I don't think we need to do. I don't think we need to, like, pad the pockets of these, like, Silicon Valley investors or tech bros or something. That's all very problematic in lots of different ways.

Michael Fulwiler [00:27:05]:

I agree. I think there's this old guard somewhat in the therapy world where these therapists say, well, I put in my time in community mental health, so you should as well. If you want to work in community mental health, that's great, but that's not the only path. And young, up and coming therapists shouldn't do it just because I did or I had to, you know?

Jeff Guenther [00:27:32]:

Yeah, exactly.

Michael Fulwiler [00:27:34]:

You're somewhat of a serial entrepreneur, if I can say that. You started multiple companies, including therapy den, which folks, I'm sure have heard of. Any lessons learned that you can share from the other companies that you started?

Jeff Guenther [00:27:51]:

I started renting part time office space to therapists, which was a great idea, especially before the pandemic when, like, most of us still went into offices and saw our clients in person. And it was a really nice way for, like, new baby therapists to, like, get an affordable, nice office and then start growing their practice. And that was, like, really great because I got to, I created, like, even more community that way. I started a little, I made my own website for all the therapists that rented space for me, and then that started to take off. And then I created a local therapist directory for Portland called Portland Therapy center, and that expanded my community even more. So when you're a therapist, it can be kind of like a lonely profession and you have to really deliberately get out there and create community. And through my business adventures, I was able to connect with a ton of people doing that. I also, for a while, got into helping therapists move up in the search rankings in Google, and I created online courses for that.

Jeff Guenther [00:28:59]:

I called it practice academy, and that was really fun. But I only did that for a year. But that's when I learned how to blog and create a newsletter and an email list and stuff like that, which expanded my community even more, which then led to creating therapy den, which was a national therapist directory. I sold therapy den, like, a year and a half ago. The thing is that usually when I start all these little businesses, I do it for a handful of years, and then I'm just like, I never want to fucking do this ever again. There's something I get really sick of. The thing that I'm doing, the only thing I've never gotten sick of is actually being a therapist. And being a therapist and still seeing clients to this day is the most grounding, anchoring thing I can do, and a lot of my clients haven't seen for many, many years.

Jeff Guenther [00:29:50]:

So now there's these long term relationships, relationships where I know them very intimately. And so that's, like, my practice has kind of, like, kept me sane, and I've been able to do all these other creative things outside of it. That's been really fun. I imagine that if I only was a therapist and I only had a private practice, I'd get a little bored. There's, like, something kind of, I don't know, very same same. Even though, like, you know, if I get bored being a therapist, I'll accept more couples for clients because they're exciting and sometimes a little chaotic, and there's so much going on in the room. So there's different types of clients that I'll accept just to sort of spice things up for myself. But I really like the different hats that I've gotten to wear and that I still get to wear currently.

Michael Fulwiler [00:30:41]:

Yeah, I mean, it sounds like the variety of the type of work you're doing is interesting, and I think that's a great point as well. Just because you start something and you offer some service or you sell a product or something, if you decide that a year from now you don't want to do that anymore, that's okay too. You're not a failure for trying something and realizing you don't like it.

Jeff Guenther [00:31:07]:

Yeah. And some of the things that I've done have failed, so you are a failure, actually. I am a failure. Yeah, I have. Yeah. So there's that too, and that's fine.

Michael Fulwiler [00:31:22]:

So I mentioned this at the beginning of our conversation. You've built this huge following as therapy Jeff, across TikTok and Instagram. I think you're over 4 million followers now. We could have a whole conversation about your process as a content creator. I'm really interested in how has this audience that you've built and this presence impacted your private practice.

Jeff Guenther [00:31:52]:

It's interesting because I think that just in general, businesses in 2024, in general, a lot of us think that in order to be successful, you have to create a brand online on social media. And I think that more and more therapists are doing that. And I think therapists were sort of, like, late to the game a little bit, which is appropriate. I think that we were all like, this feels weird. This doesn't feel like, ethically, there's some weird thing going on here or whatever. I think that a lot of therapists are kind of, like, taking a backseat and watching how things have developed. And we didn't really know, like, how creating social media content was going to affect our personal, private practices. And for me, there's, you know, I started to, like, fuck around on TikTok, you know, towards the beginning, middle of the pandemic, because I was bored and I was, like, done with, you know, my little businesses that I had been running, and I wanted to do something else.

Jeff Guenther [00:32:59]:

And I saw that, like, therapy and mental health was trending on TikTok, and I was on TikTok way too much. I was like, I'm gonna. I think I can do something here. And that was my fourth video that went viral, so it happened really quickly. So by the time I like my video, my therapy just started going viral. And then I went back into the office to see clients. There was already, like, half of them where I had popped up on their phone without knowing or, like, bracing for the fact that that might happen. And so I had to, like, really be like, oh, my God.

Jeff Guenther [00:33:35]:

I don't even know how to fucking process this with you. This is so weird that it's happening to me, and it's. And now, like, your therapist is showing up, like, in your phone, that is. And it's, like, a different side of me. I'm being kind of silly. I'm being a little loud. It's like, this therapy Jeff character that, you know, like, Jeff Guenther, licensed professional counselor, is different than, like, the therapy Jeff that shows up online. I'm not going to, like, talk to my clients and be like, hey, here's the top ten reasons you should break up with your boyfriend right now.

Jeff Guenther [00:34:04]:

Right? Like, there's, like, that's, like, a fun therapy Jeff video that's. Nobody wants their actual therapist to talk to them like that, I think. And it's also, like, so they were forced almost to, like, experience me in a way that they didn't consent to. And there's already, like, you know, when you start therapy with a client for the first time, you're like, you might run into me in public, I'm going to fucking ignore you, and it's gonna be awkward, and I'm gonna leave, right? Like, you have these, like, this is what's gonna happen, buddy. And you plan for it. I didn't plan for what happens if I show up in there for you page on TikTok or on their, like, you know, the algorithm and Instagram or something. So I felt embarrassed. I felt like I couldn't control.

Jeff Guenther [00:34:49]:

I didn't, like, think about it proactively, and I didn't think about what if this came across my client's feed. So I had to kind of, like, work through that embarrassment and also, like, process with them. Like, what was that like for you? As it typically does, it turned into, like, really good therapy therapist content. Not content, like, for the phone, but, like, in session to kind of, like, work through. But then I had to. I decided to, like, tell all my clients, hey, I'm posting on social media. I don't think you should follow me, but you're probably gonna fucking do that. And I do not want you to ever comment on my videos, and I could never respond to your comments if you actually did, because that would be, like, breaking some sort of confidentiality.

Jeff Guenther [00:35:36]:

If you ever feel like it's weird seeing me or you, or if you ever think that I'm talking about something on TikTok that you think is coming directly from our sessions, then please let me know. I'm. I was and still am very vigilant about making sure that, like, content Jeff, like, thinking about content, that part of my brain is turned off doing talking to my clients. It's like a relief to not have to think about content when I'm being a therapist. However, inevitably, like that shit, like things that I talk to my clients about or things that I say in therapy, that's going to seep into my content whether I like it or not. And my clients are most likely going to see themselves or project themselves or something onto those videos that I'm posting. So it made therapy more complicated. I had to add things to my informed consent and inevitably makes it maybe even more, like, even more interesting stuff to work through with my clients.

Jeff Guenther [00:36:41]:

All that being said, since I started being, like, therapy Jeff on the Internet, I have not accepted one new client since then, purposely. I only see the clients that I've seen the past 20 years that I've just, like, that, see me leave and then come back and leave and come back. I sort of, like, cycle through all of my old clients because there's this, like, I've gotten many, many thousands of requests for people to, like, be a client of mine, but they have this really weird parasocial relationship with me. They're imagining I'm going to be therapy Jeff in session with them, most likely, or some version of that, which I'm not. I want to start a relationship with my clients from, like a, you don't know me and I don't know you, and we're going to kind of, like, discover each other together. I imagine that I could start seeing new clients now, but I just don't trust it. I just don't want to, and I don't need to either. I have, like, plenty of old clients coming in, and so.

Michael Fulwiler [00:37:45]:

Yeah, that's so interesting. So you haven't gotten new clients from social media since building this brand?

Jeff Guenther [00:37:55]:

No. I could, yeah, but, yeah, but no, I don't. I don't want to. It would be, it's. I mean, it's a great way to do it. I think that if I did it all over again and I only wanted to create content online just for my private practice or just for my therapy businesses, I would be a lot more clinical and I wouldn't be as silly or, I can't help how good looking I am, like we've talked about, but I wouldn't be as maybe self disclosing. I don't know. I would focus in on the specialty that I'm interested in, and I would attract clients that way.

Jeff Guenther [00:38:38]:

And I most likely would create courses, like online courses for folks to take where I'm practicing now as more of a coach, a wellness coach sort of thing over here in my courses, and I'm being a licensed therapist with my one on one clients or something.

Michael Fulwiler [00:38:58]:

I was going to ask why you haven't transitioned into more of an online business around your brand. Because I feel like that's pretty common. People build this large audience and then they stop doing clinical work because they realize, oh, I could make so much more money selling courses or doing other stuff online. You alluded to it earlier that your therapy practice is really what has grounded you. Would you say that's why you've continued to see clients?

Jeff Guenther [00:39:29]:

That's a big reason why I've continued to see clients, and I love my clients. I love being a therapist. It really anchors me. Like I was saying, I maybe would have done more courses and maybe I'll do that in the future, but I decided not to do that because that doesn't make as much money as doing, like, sponsored content. So I became so big that there was, like, just a ton of, like, brands and companies and apps or whatever, being like, will you make sponsored content for me? And I said no. For a long time. Like, that feels like I'm selling out. And, like, as a nineties kid, that's the worst thing you can do, is be a fucking sellout.

Jeff Guenther [00:40:07]:

And that's not who I am. Until they offered me enough money to be like, I'm a total fucking sellout. Like, let's do this. And I decided, like, I'm just gonna make this a cash grab as therapy Jeff. I'm going to grab as much cash as I possibly can until I get burnt out from, like, the online therapy, like, posts. And also, like, because I created such a big platform, there was a bunch of publishers out there being like, you need to write a book. And I was like, all right, I'll try to do that. And so I also did that.

Jeff Guenther [00:40:46]:

So sponsored content, and then the book deal got me a ton of money, and that's why I decided to do what I did.

Michael Fulwiler [00:40:56]:

And that book is coming out in July, so around the time of this episode airing. Do you want to talk about the book and what it's about?

Jeff Guenther [00:41:06]:

Sure. It's called big dating energy. It comes out July 9. And, you know, it's funny, because when I first got this book deal, I decided they were like, what do you want to write a book about? And I was like, oh, a memoir, of course. So interesting. Everybody wants to know about my life story, and they're like, cool. Yeah, all right, do that. Go ahead, write that memoir.

Jeff Guenther [00:41:32]:

And I was like, I'll do it. And then I was like, no, I can't do it. Writing a memoir actually takes even more emotional work than I've already done. The ability to write a memoir, one of the things you need to be able to do is to write in a way that's not upsetting and angry about your fucking mother or your shithead sister or your asshole dad or something. So just me, like, be ranting. Nobody wants to read that shit. So I quickly pivoted to, yeah, write.

Michael Fulwiler [00:42:05]:

It in a journal.

Jeff Guenther [00:42:06]:

Yeah, exactly. That's private thoughts that never get sent to anybody. So I was like, you know what? I'm just gonna, like, write. I'm gonna, like, write something. I'm gonna give the people what they want. Like, I talk a lot about relationships and early dating advice or sometimes, like, long term relationship stuff. Like, I'm kind of like the Gottmans, but younger and hipper and so much better. Like, so much more valuable than the Gottmans is basically what I tell myself.

Jeff Guenther [00:42:32]:

And so I wrote this book, but the problem was, like, I've talked about a little bit is that, like, in school, I was a really bad student, and I was a really bad writer. I think that, like, I can write a good 62nd TikTok video, and that's compelling, but I don't know how to, like, write a fucking, like, a real book. So I used to have a wife. We were married for eight years or so. She's a writer, and we're still very, very close and good friends. And I was like, hey, Kate, can you help me with this book? Because we've worked on writing projects together, and she said she'd be happy to. So I wrote this book on dating and relationships with my ex wife. And so she.

Jeff Guenther [00:43:14]:

It's my voice, but she pops in every now and then, kind of, like, putting me in check and putting me in place and offering a little bit of transparency when I maybe kind of, like, think that I'm a little too great. But it's a book that goes through, like, all the stages of dating and then long term relations stuff. Again, like Gottman's, but so much better, I think, is now how I'm going to market it. I just came up with that right now.

Michael Fulwiler [00:43:36]:

They just reposted you on Instagram, so, you know, maybe there's something there. I could make that connection happen for you.

Jeff Guenther [00:43:44]:

I'm gonna. You know what? The Gottman's are great. Like, they're the goats. Like, they're legends in the fucking field. No reason we shouldn't love the Gottmans. But I'll clue you in on a little weird conspiracy theory that I have about the Gottmans when I first wrote my book. When you first write a book, you have to write. What is it? I don't know.

Jeff Guenther [00:44:06]:

I forget what it's called. But you write the intro in three chapters, a book proposal. And when I wrote that book proposal, I titled the book date great. And I was like, oh, this is fun. Two words, kind of rhymy. I like things that are really short and concise. Date great. And in the book, in the sample chapter on fighting, the chapter is called how to win every fight.

Jeff Guenther [00:44:31]:

And it's a great chapter. And in that chapter, I make a joke, and I'm like, tune in for my next book called Fight. Right? Yada, yada, yada. Turn that into the publisher. Ten other publishers in the industry read that, and one of those publishers is the publisher that publishes the Gottman books. They eventually passed, but I had a meeting with them, and they read those chapters, blah, blah, blah. The last book that the Gottmans wrote and released six months ago or so is called Fight Wright. And I think it's because their publisher read my chapters, saw fight Wright, and they're like, this is an amazing book title, and we're going to give it to the Gottmans.

Jeff Guenther [00:45:13]:

So. The Gottmans, if you're listening, give me some fucking royalties on that shit. This is not okay.

Michael Fulwiler [00:45:19]:

If that did happen, I'm sure they have no knowledge of it.

Jeff Guenther [00:45:23]:

But also, if it did happen, it did happen, Michael.

Michael Fulwiler [00:45:28]:

We can't confirm nor deny the.

Jeff Guenther [00:45:31]:

No, no. We can't confirm or deny. You're right. Yeah. I'm just alleging it. And it's probably not right, but it could be right.

Michael Fulwiler [00:45:38]:

Well, I'm sorry that your book title was stolen. It's a good title, clearly. It's very exciting. Excited to get the book, excited to read it. How else are you thinking about monetizing your audience? You said that you're just cashing in as long as you can you self cash in bay.

Jeff Guenther [00:45:57]:

I'm trying, okay? I'm good. I'm getting the fuck out of here. I don't want to do this shit anymore. Yeah. So hopefully, the book will become a big enough hit to take me to the next level of my career so that I don't have to post on social media as much. Maybe just, like, once or twice a week instead of once or twice a day. You know? I have podcasts also podcasts called big dating energy and other podcasts called Problem solved. And I'm hoping that those will be, like, the bulk of my income moving forward until I want to.

Jeff Guenther [00:46:29]:

Until I get incredibly sick of that and want to throw it in a dumpster fire or something. So I'm just sort of like, wherever my career goes, it goes, and I'm following it. But I always have my private practice. I also always have my local therapist directory in Portland, which also generates a good base income. So I have a lot of financial freedom to try things and fail or succeed or burn it all down or shoot for the mountainous.

Michael Fulwiler [00:47:01]:

Are there any challenges that you're experiencing in your practice today, or are things running pretty smoothly at this point?

Jeff Guenther [00:47:09]:

No. I mean, I guess, you know, you eventually hit a stride. I think I hit my stride being a private practice, like, practitioner. Maybe, like, ten years ago, I think, like, I was a private practice therapist for ten years, and I really got into the groove, but I worked through the. What am I worth? Shit, that took me ten years. So fucking annoying. And I worked through, am I a fraud? I worked through. I need to know every single intervention in theory.

Jeff Guenther [00:47:41]:

And it's just like, oh, actually my clients are healing based on my relationship that I have with them. And so eventually it got to a place where all the sessions just kind of flow, and if something doesnt flow, all of a sudden I cant predict, then its like, this is so exciting, whats going on. So theres just sort of like, I engage with all the twists and turns in a really curious sort of way where I know that its going to be okay, but even if I say a thing in therapy, and im just like, that was bad therapy move. Why did I say that? I now know that I can recover. It can be even more healing the next time I see that client. I can be flawed, it can be imperfect, and, oh my God, the fucking freedom to, like, being a therapist and fucking up with your clients and then, like, making it work the next time you see them or fucking up. There's been, like, a handful of times, this isn't. I don't.

Jeff Guenther [00:48:40]:

I'm not proud of this, but there's been, like, a handful of times where I've, like, irreparably fucked up, you know, not in like any, like, fucked up ethical way, but just like, oh, man, I went the wrong way with this client, and I wasn't able to, like, reconnect with them, and they decided to go see somebody else. And that's, like, crushing for a client to be like, you're not a good fit. You hurt me too bad, and I'm gonna go see some. But I survived. I survived every one of those sessions, and I, like, learned from them more than any other fucking therapist, you know? So, like, I've been doing this long enough where I'm in the flow, and I feel like I'm really good, and I love seeing my clients, and, yeah, the pee pants are so far behind me, and I'm feeling great.

Michael Fulwiler [00:49:28]:

You do a lot between your private practice, writing a book, hosting two podcasts, the other businesses that you run, how do you manage all of it without burning out?

Jeff Guenther [00:49:43]:

No, I regularly burn out. I don't not burn out. Yeah, I do what I think maybe like three or four times a year, I do a good burnout and.

Michael Fulwiler [00:50:00]:

Just go all the way into the ground and then get yourself so far.

Jeff Guenther [00:50:04]:

Exactly. And then I take a week off, or I slow down a lot. Or the next month, I'm basically only seeing clients and not putting too much effort into all the other things. So I've gotten better at not burning out, but I still get burnt out. And I understand that when I get burnt out, I get more angsty, which makes me more angry, which makes me more frustrated, which makes it so that I want to take it out on people. Fucking piss me off. And that's like hunting down trolls and trying to troll my trolls. Like, oh, I've gone way too far, right? Like, that is I need to shut the fuck up and get offline, you know? Luckily, I'm so protective of my private practice that I don't think it seeps into how I am as a therapist.

Jeff Guenther [00:50:47]:

But I allow for burnout, and I try to make sure that it doesn't happen. But a lot of the things that I've done is because it's creative, it's interesting, it's new, it's novel, it creates variety. But also, I want to make a bunch of money. And so sometimes this capitalist thing or only values family members that make a lot of money shit comes through, and I'm just like, ugh, I got to do that. So if I'm in it just for the cash, then I'm doing that consciously. I understand I'm going to get burnt out. And it sort of, like I said, it's just a cash grab sometimes so that I can slow down afterwards.

Michael Fulwiler [00:51:29]:

This has been great. We're coming to the end of our conversation as just as I thought it would be. We end the show with a segment we call the footnote. My final question for you is, what's one thing that you want therapists to take away from this conversation?

Jeff Guenther [00:51:49]:

I want to be somewhat of, like, a cautionary tale to new therapists that are thinking about, like, becoming little content creator, online influencer therapist. I don't think you should do it right out of the gates. I don't think that you'll listen to me and you're such a cutie because of that. And I think that I've had to manage my mental health more than I've ever had to manage it since posting online and becoming therapy Jeff and I didn't understand the emotional toll and the dopamine addiction that would be created from getting all the views and likes and comments and engagements. It's like, not something that you can plan for. There's also, like, I think I wanted to be rich and famous when I started to, like, take off on TikTok. I think I just wanted to be rich. Actually, I don't.

Jeff Guenther [00:52:51]:

The famous part is actually not that great when it comes down to it. So really think about and plan about and talk to other therapists online if they're doing interesting social media stuff. And be very thoughtful about what you're about to do and understand that it's going to affect your clients in a weird way that you don't have control over. There's, like, so much control that you have being a therapist in your room with your client, and all of a sudden, you lose so much of that control when you start posting online and the world can see you. So, yeah, think twice. And yes, sign into my DM's and I'll give you some advice.

Michael Fulwiler [00:53:35]:

I'm glad you brought that up. There's this whole dark side of not even just being an influencer, but being visible online. I've had that experience as well. People don't realize going viral is actually terrible, and it's kind of a downer to end on, but I think it's a good warning for people out there.

Jeff Guenther [00:53:56]:

Yeah, me too. Thank you, Jeff.

Michael Fulwiler [00:53:59]:

Yeah, no, this is awesome. You're on TikTok. You're on Instagram therapy, Jeff. People can order the book. Where else can they connect with you?

Jeff Guenther [00:54:08]:

Yeah, therapyjeff.com is where you can get that book. Or wherever. Amazon, Barnes and noble pals. And like you said, like my podcasts. Big dating energy, and problem solved. You can send me an email@jefferapyjeff.com. i read all my emails for some fuckin reason, so take advantage of that. Wow.

Michael Fulwiler [00:54:27]:

You heard it here. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Guenther [00:54:30]:

Yep, no problem. Bye.

Michael Fulwiler [00:54:34]:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Heard Business School, brought to you by Heard, the financial back office. For therapists, visit the Heard resource hub at joinheard.com. to support you in your journey as a private practice owner. And don't forget to subscribe on YouTube, Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll see you in the next class.

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